7 December 2011

Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre

The long list of 5-star reviews made seeing Jerusalem an obvious choice. Having done so I am not sure what the other reviewers saw.

Yes it is good but I am not convinced that it is that good but let's start by saying what it is.

Jerusalem is Shameless set in Dale Farm.

Johnny Byron is lives in a caravan where he holds wild parties, sells drugs and holds court over a mixed group of other people living on the edge of society. "No hopers" may be a cruel but accurate description.

 All the action, such as it is, takes place in and around the caravan in the woods. Having just one scene to play with means that the set designers can go to town, and they did. The caravan is surrounded by thick trees, the yard is appropriately cluttered, a large water tank keeps the beers cool and chickens scratch around under the caravan.

The large cast of secondary characters (they are all secondary to Johnny Byron, despite being strong characters in their own right and are all portrayed by good actors) comes and goes and through their banter we learn more about them and a lot more about Johnny's past, present and possible future.



There are some plot lines but these hardly matter, what engages us is the dialogue. And a word of warning here, the language is very strong throughout.

The mood changes as we discover more about the situation. At first the impression is of a lovable Gypsy living the hippie dream (free love and drugs) who draws kindred spirits to him but there are some dark moments too with, just to name a few, a missing child, a broken marriage and a few acts of cruelty. We also have a heady mix of humour and hope to add to the concoction.

The mood-swings keep us guessing whether we are heading towards a happy or a sad ending until we realise that does not matter either, just as we do not need Godot to arrive to make that play work.

The ending that we are led to reminded me of The Lady or The Tiger except here the choice is between bulldozers and giants. My money is on the bulldozers, but that's just a guess.

The play is all about Johnny Byron and its abiding strength is Mark Rylance's magnificent performance in that role. We care for him, are jealous of him and are shocked by him.

Jerusalem grips and enthrals you and showers you with a mix of strong emotions. It's both a draining and a rewarding experience, which is entirely appropriate.

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